INTERVIEW: Bryan Estepa

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Bryan Estepa has embraced fatherhood, is approaching middle-age, and now, five albums into his solo career, he finds those life events being reflected in his songwriting and approach to the music business. 

On the day of his launch gig for his new album Every Little Thing, Estepa is surprisingly calm, even when having to be interviewed via video in his car as he momentarily escapes parental responsibilities. That lack of rush and stress marks Estepa’s current mindset, which he refers to as “mid-tempo”.

“You know, I am. I’m nearly 40 and have a family and in our mid 20s we seemed to be rushing all the time and now we’ve got it more in balance. That reference seems to reflect my life now. I’m not wanting to be a rock star or feel like I have to have a punk song or a really quick song on my albums. Once I’d recorded them I realised that there aren’t any particularly big sounding songs, there’s a natural flow to the album and I didn’t feel the need to include anything like a specific radio song.”

The big change on Every Little Thing was Estepa’s realisation, after four albums with a full band, that he needed to mix things up and create a different musical headspace to inspire new songs. “This album didn’t exist in my head twelve months ago,” remarks Estepa. “A year ago I made the drastic decision to change my band setup, stripping it back to a trio with the Tempe Two (Dave Keys – bass, Russell Crawford – drums/vocals). After coming home from a successful tour with the larger band, something was telling me to cut it down and make it smaller. I just knew I had to tell two of my best friends that I was stripping the band back. It wasn’t easy but they understood it was for the music and that it will benefit all of us in the long time. I just felt I needed a change after playing as a five piece for ten years. Then the songs rolled along as I wrote to suit the smaller band setup.”

Those songs found Estepa stepping back and also looking inward to assess his own perspectives on life. “It’s a very personal album. I wrote a song for my children on it. My relationship is very similar to a lot of my friends where we’ve been together for a long time, we’re married with kids and it’s examining where we are at this point in our lives and where we’re going. It is introspective without getting too personal, so it is still universal in many ways.”

Recording the album in the sunlit environs of Bondi Pavilion with producer Brendan Gallagher (Karma County, Jimmy Little, Bernie Hayes) “really relaxed everyone and loosened the playing,” says Estepa. “He records a very true sound and has perfect pitch and so that pushed me to get some of the best vocal recordings that I’ve done I think.”

Stylistically Estepa is something of a musical magpie. He’s been pegged as power pop, indie rock and alt-county and though he exhibits strains of all of those genres he also manages to blend a soulfulness and a classically-crafted singer/songwriter feel into his music. That cross-pollination isn’t something that Estepa feels inhibits his career. “From a record label perspective or for iTunes categorisation it might matter but as a songwriter I think it’s good,” he stresses.

“I really love the term Australiana and when I listen to someone like William Crighton it sounds very Australian to me. Not just in the way he’s singing but the atmosphere makes it like a modern day Triffids album in that alt-country sense. I heard rural Victoria when I heard his album and I’ve never been too rural Victoria. The same when I listen to the new Halfway album which was recorded in Nashville but still sounds very Australian. It shows the roots scene here is growing and getting big enough where people are starting to realise we have our own sound and not just copying Nashville,” says Estepa, proudly.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Bryan Estepa & The Tempe Two – Every Little Thing

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Rating8Bryan Estepa returns with album number five and it continues the rich vein of effortless 70s singer/songwriter vibes, a dose of soulful yacht rock and the sweet and lonesome side of country music.

Every Little Thing finds Estepa reconfiguring his band (The Tempe Two) to a trio of bass, drums and guitars and it was a good call, it suits his songs perfectly. It allows the songs to breathe more, strong vocal harmonies ringing out and hanging in the air while the rhythm section finds a wealth of interesting paths to explore – from lightly swinging funk to tumbling, propulsive rhythms.

Sensitivity in songwriting is nothing new but it so often descends into soporific and saccharine sentimentality or self-absorbed wallowing. Estepa successfully walks the fine line between that and a bruised, honest and often resolute romanticism. Over a finger-picked guitar and strings on At Least You Didn’t Know he recalls Elliott Smith, while on Sooner Or Later he dials in a wistful, dreamy melancholy that quietly screams optimism.

The yacht rock sound that Estepa explored on his previous album Heart Vs Mind are again present, though they are now more subtly absorbed into the songs and indeed the album as a whole. Steely Dan and Hall & Oates are updated with the kind of sweet and soulful sounds that Wilco do so well and though there are clear antecedents in Estepa’s songwriting style, from the Beatles to The Jayhawks, he never falls into the trap of replicating the style of his heroes. He acknowledges and references them with a clever chord change, a vocal reach or a knowing groove; always keeping his own stories and voice at the forefront of his music. Every Little Thing is beautifully recorded and stacks up as Estepa’s most complete and concise set of recordings to date.

Chris Familton

NEWS: Glide/William Arthur tribute show

 

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Glide were one of Sydney’s best loved indie guitar bands of the 90’s, led by singer, guitarist and principal songwriter William Arthur. Sadly Arthur passed away 15 years ago leaving a big hole in the local music scene so it is no surprise that an impressive line-up of musicians are gathering at The Vanguard on August 22nd to pay tribute.

Artists performing include Knievel, Croons (former Glide members playing songs off Open Up And Croon), Last (Glide’s last line-up), Steve Kilbey, Peter Fenton (CROW), Jamie Hutchings, Sounds Like Sunset, Charlie Horse, Greg Atkinson (Big Heavy Stuff), J M S Harrison, Hope Springs, The Model School, Wifey and Bryan Estepa.

Buy Tickets Here

 

FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2013

DS 2013 faves

2013 was a pretty strong year for music. From the established artists hitting their late-period straps to newcomers breathing new life into old forms, it felt like a year where a whole range of styles rose to the top.

There were plenty of surprises with new albums appearing out of the blue from Bowie and MBV and also irritating marketing campaigns that felt like they were bleeding their albums dry before they were even released. I’m looking at you Daft Punk and Arcade Fire.

As usual here at DS we kept our ears closely tuned into what was going on in Australia and New Zealand with both countries producing a wealth of great albums. Records from this part of the world make up 40% of our favourite records in 2013. Let us know what seduced and moved you this year and let’s do it all again in 2014.

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1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A record that perfectly blends rich narrative and darkly cinematic sonic backdrops. One of Cave’s finest works and the moment where his and Warren Ellis’ musical collaboration becomes fully realised.

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2. Bill Callahan – Dream River

On his exceptional new album, Bill Callahan (formerly Smog) has recorded his most peaceful and meditative set of songs. There is a bucolic, contemplative feel to the eight songs on offer as they weave across percussive landscapes, led by flutes and hypnotic guitars. Sonically the album is rooted in pastoral folk, much of it soaked in dub-heavy reverb and delay. The focus though is firmly on Callahan’s voice, high and focused in the mix as he delivers typically brilliant lines like “All I want to do is make love to you in the fertile dirt with a careless mind”.

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3. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Vile has gone from strength to strength with each album and this is his finest yet. Finely tuned hazily motorik songs that sit in the pocket and keep drawing you in deeper and deeper with each listen.

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4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Isbell’s coming of age as a songwriter, though not that he was in any way a slouch in that department prior to Southeastern. He doesn’t waste a word, he builds phrases with economy and poetic grace while encasing them in that rich southern drawl.

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5. Houndmouth – From The Hills Below The City

This was a real surprise record that came out of nowhere for me. It was recommended by a fellow Americana fan and reminded me of the best of what the Felice Brothers do when they blend irresistible melodies with sharp yet not overly polished harmonies and an instrumental mix of country and folk.

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6. Bryan Estepa – Heart vs Mind

A relatively unsung hero amongst Australian songwriters and possessing an angelic voice, Estepa embraced his inner pop and rock obsessions to craft this record that pulls influences from The Jayhawks to Hall & Oates. This is a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.

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7. Bad/Dreems – Badlands EP

Mix small town pessimism, youthful optimism, suburban nihilism and a lo-fi aesthetic and you have some of the ingredients that make the essential sound of Bad//Dreems. Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.

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8. Wooden Shjips – Back To Land

This is the Shjips doing mainly what they always do, locking into psych drone grooves and riding them into the sunset and/or sunrise. Repetition is the key. They’ve let more light into this one and it opens up their sound into some new areas, rewardingly so.

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9. Ducktails – The Flower Lane

The solo project of Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, this is an album built on 80s dream pop with sax solos and warm glowing melodies. Easily the best in show for this kind of music.

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10. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism

The agent provocateur of Australian art rock realises his ambition with this wide-ranging album that blends dissonance and a healthy pop heart. Victoria M is one of Embracism’s high points, tempering the intensity with gorgeous, swelling piano and bittersweet baroque pop in the vein of Suede. Elsewhere we get Callinan channeling David Sylvian on Scraps, Bowie on the schizophrenic Chardonnay Sean and Suicide on Way II War. Debut album of the year.

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11. Popstrangers – Antipodes

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12. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless

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13. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Ready For Boredom

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14. Ooga Boogas – Ooga Boogas

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15. The Drones – I See Seaweed

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16. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day

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17. Vista Chino – Peace

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18. Civil Civic – Rules

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19. Basko Believes- Melancholic Melodies

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20. Sharpie Crows – 12 Omeros

21. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In 

22. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

23. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

25. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

26. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

27. Daughn Gibson – Me Moan

28. The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango

29. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas

30. Mark Moldre – An Ear To The Earth

31. Anna Calvi – One Breath

32 .Matthew E. White – Big Inner

33. Califone – Stitches

34. The Haxan Cloak – Extinction

35. DJ Koze – Amygdala

36. Zomby – With Love 

37. Jen Cloher – In Blood Memory

38. Savages – Silence Yourself 

39. Forest Swords – Engravings

40. The Necks – Open

2013 MID YEAR FAVOURITE ALBUMS

2013 mid year faves

Here we are again at list time, halfway through 2013 and already there have been a swathe of great albums released. We’ve been listening to an eclectic mix of stuff as usual including dub electronica, skronking freeform saxophone, abrasive art rock, retro-leaning post punk and heartstring americana. These are the records we’ve loved the most from what we’ve heard this year. There will be others from the last six months that we’ll discover as the rest of the year rolls out but we can at least highly recommend these ones – in no particular order…

  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
  • Protomartyr – No Passion All Technique
  • The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango
  • Kirin J Callinan – Embracism
  • The Drones – I See Seaweed
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop – Blackbird
  • Jason Isbell – Southeastern
  • DJ Koze – Amygdala
  • Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
  • Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol 3: To See More Light
  • Zomby – With Love

SONIC KICKS: Bryan Estepa

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Sydney songwriter Bryan Estepa has released a bunch of albums that just get better and better, culminating in this year’s brilliant Heart Vs Mind (review) which bursts with glorious harmonies built on classic power pop and slight detours into americana and yacht rock. It shows a musician who isn’t afraid to play to his strengths and channel all the musical influences that have to date made up his own personal style. We asked Bryan to give us an insight into his musical past via our regular Sonic Kicks feature…

 

  • The first album I bought – Bon Jovi | Slippery When Wet

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Yep.

 

  • The album that soundtracked a relationship – Bob Evans | Suburban Songbook

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This album pretty much summed up my relationship with my wife at the time the album came out. It was almost as if Bob was saying everything I wanted to say to her but haven’t had the chance to to.

 

  • The album that inspired me to form a band – You Am I | Hi Fi Way

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You Am I was one of the most important and influential bands during my formative band years. Seeing Tim & co live was a revelation and this album was the icing on the cake. I LOVE this band and still my fave Australian band. Ever.

 

  • The album that reminds me of my high school years – WeezerBlue Album, Pearl Jam | Vitalogy  & Oasis | Definitely Maybe

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Hard to split these three albums amongst all the other ‘grunge’ & mid 90’s albums that I loved at the time. Each had it’s own impact on me but most of all made me want to be in a band and just jam. No matter how shit I was then.

 

  • The album I’d love to hear live and played in full – The Jayhawks | The Sound of Lies & Rainy Day Music

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Those two played in their glorious entirety and back to back. Heaven man.

 

  • My favourite album cover art – The Byrds | Sweetheart of The Rodeo

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Not my fave but I really love the cover for Sweetheart of The Rodeo. I even have a t-shirt of it.

 

  • My guilty pleasure album – Metallica | Black album

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I’m not sure if its a guilty pleasure but I just  love singing along to it and playing better air drums than Lars.

 

  • An album I loved but now have no idea why I bought it – Jars of Clay | Much Afraid

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I really loved this album when it came out. I don’t really like it now.

 

  • The last album you bought – DawesStories Don’t End

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These guys just took it up another notch with this brilliant album. On high rotation since I got it.

 

Bryan Estepa’s Heart vs Mind is out now via Laughing Outlaw Records, digitally and on vinyl.

ALBUM REVIEW: Bryan Estepa | Heart vs Mind

ds album reviews

by Chris Familton

square-600Rating9Sydney songwriter Bryan Estepa has been releasing music for a decade now and on Heart vs Mind he has consolidated those years of songwriting, performing and developing his craft to produce a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.

The predominant feature of the record is how versatile Estepa is as a musical magpie. He dips into all manner of stylistic pools, whether it be the unabashed yacht rock of Overnight, the gliding 70s sound of Seachange that equally channels Al Stewart and High Llamas, the country rock flavoured Come What May or the brisk power pop rush of In A Minute.

The glue that seamlessly bind these songs is Estepa’s voice, a mercurial instrument that sounds so familiar. Sure it is easy on the ear, warm and comforting but it doesn’t ever veer into saccharine middle-of-the-road balladeer territory. It soars with a gentle ache on Nothing At All and displays an americana fragility on the opening track (If You Follow) We Just Might Get Near of the type that Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has built a career on. Arms Reach is another song that demands plaudits for his singing, channeling Roy Orbison with its swell and swoon as it beautifully billows in and out of falsetto.

While Estepa’s voice takes centre stage the production of Adrian Deutsch is another key to the appeal of Heart vs Mind. He has gifted the songs with space and shaped a warm organic sound to the instrumentation. Those qualities make the musical references to the 60s and 70s completely believable and authentic and give Estepa’s vocals the panoramic canvas they deserve.

Thematically Heart vs Mind is one of those records that deals in the push and pull of human emotion and the crossroads of circumstance. It is a relationship album but one that works on a meta level, dealing in the inevitable trials and tribulations that life deals most of us at some point. There are points where guitars translate the turbulence of the subject matter as effectively as words. She vs Him builds into a spiraling, overlapping whirlwind of noise that throws the notes into the air like ashes from a mountaintop. Contrastingly Arms Reach’s slide guitar replicates tears and heartache with Harrison-esque sensitivity.

Early last year I was stopped in my tracks by Suzy Connolly’s (Estepa’s label-mate) album and in many ways Heart vs Mind’s impact comes from a similar place. This is music that feels genuine, follows no trend or fashion and its composition seems effortless and built on an endless reservoir of classic sounding pop and rock melodies. Estepa will reset your musical compass with this truly wonderful record that refreshes the notion of timeless music.

Heart vs Mind is out now via Laughing Outlaw Records